Home expectations -- and Hackworth's need to meet them -- harming the Union

Home expectations -- and Hackworth's need to meet them -- harming the Union

Philadelphia Union midfielder Michael Lahoud (13), defender Fabinho (33), midfielder Michael Farfan (21) and forward Conor Casey (6) try to block a free kick during the first half of an MLS soccer match against Sporting KC in Kansas City, Kan., Friday, Sept. 27, 2013. (AP Photo)

Homefield advantage is one of the most popular talking points in any sport.

In many of those sports, there is a tangible advantage to being the home team. Home baseball teams get to hit last and can even alter their stadiums to suit their strengths. Home hockey teams get to make the last line change and play the matchup game. Home football teams urge their fans to make noise when opponents are on offense and hinder play-calling at the line.

In soccer, people love to talk about loud stadiums, intimidating atmospheres and bumpy pitches. But in reality, there really is no practical advantage to being the home team. Sure, fans are loud, and occasionally you have to deal with a turf field on the road (I'm looking at you, Seattle, Portland and New England). But in reality, there isn't really any play-calling that can be prevented by crowd noise, and as long as you avoid the flying bags of urine at the Azteca, you can play the same game you play at home.

The problem is that nearly every single person in the soccer world thinks otherwise. More than any sport, you'll hear coaches and players readily admit to "playing for a result" on the road. Or "we're happy to get out of here with a point."

And it's not all quotes and rhetoric. Teams openly admit to changing their tactics and formations just to get that road point or simply to give themselves a chance. No one is seemingly worse in that regard than John Hackworth.

Last weekend in Kansas City, Hackworth trotted out a very defensive-minded formation, going with Michael Lahoud and leaving Jack McInerney and Sebastien Le Toux on the bench. In many ways it made perfect sense against a strong team like Sporting. And in the end, the Union got three crucial points that put them back closer (at least in my book) to a 50/50 chance of making the playoffs.

The problem comes with the Union come back to PPL Park, as they will Saturday against a VERY bad Toronto FC team.

As I wrote last week, soccer fans expect to see a fun style and they want to see goals. Coaches -- and likely players -- know this. So the pressure amps up at home, and people like Hackworth know they are "supposed" to win at home. Not just win, but win "with style," and give the fans something to cheer about.

Players also likely know this, meaning wing backs like Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis fly forward a little more often to join the attack. Or midfielders go for the longer, more dangerous home run pass.

If you watched any of Friday's game in Kansas City, you could tell that the Union were more than happy to sit back and let Sporting possess the ball. They stayed home defensively and played an ugly game, "parking the bus" in the back and waiting for a chance to counter-attack. Eventually, it led to a win.

This Saturday night, against a bad team at PPL Park, Hackworth will more than likely name an attack-minded roster. He'll go with two strikers instead of one, likely sit Lahoud and invite Williams, Gaddis or Fabinho to go forward up the wing.

It hasn't worked.

The Union have scored just five more goals at home this season than their opponents -- the third-worst differential in the league behind basement-dwellers Chivas USA and Toronto FC. On the road, however, the Union have a goal differential of minus-six -- a number that while seemingly unimpressive, ranks in the top third of the league.

I'm not arguing that Hackworth should bunker in at home and play for a lucky win. I want to see goals as much as anyone else. But there needs to be a middle ground. And there needs to be a way for the Union to score goals at home without leaving gaping holes in the back.

The Union tied Toronto back in April at PPL Park. Toronto was just as bad back then as they are now.

Hackworth can't afford a draw on Saturday night. And if that means he has to win ugly, then he needs to ignore the expectations and do whatever it takes.

No. 10 Washington dominates No. 7 Stanford in rout

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No. 10 Washington dominates No. 7 Stanford in rout

SEATTLE -- Jake Browning threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns, Myles Gaskin added 100 yards and two scores, and No. 10 Washington was dominant on both sides, overwhelming No. 7 Stanford 44-6 on Friday night.

After months of hype that Washington (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) was on the verge of a breakout, the Huskies showed they were ready for their return to the national stage.

And they did it emphatically, handing Stanford (3-1, 2-1) its worst loss since a 41-3 setback against Arizona State in 2007.

The Huskies raced to a 23-0 halftime lead, scored early in the second half to go up 30-0 and coasted to their biggest victory over an AP Top 10 team since beating No. 5 Southern California 31-0 in 1990. That game 26 years ago announced Washington as a national contender and the Huskies went on to share the national title a year later with Miami -- taking the coaches' version while Miami topped the AP media poll.

Browning was the leader of an efficient offense that scored on six of its eight drives. He threw touchdowns of 3 yards to Dante Pettis, 19 yards to John Ross and capped the night with a 3-yarder to Aaron Fuller with 5:30 remaining. Browning was 15 of 21 and did not commit a turnover.

Equally important was Washington's ability to establish a running game. The Huskies rushed for 214 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

Meanwhile, Stanford star Christian McCaffrey saw his Heisman Trophy aspirations hit a major speed bump. McCaffrey was held to 49 yards rushing on 12 carries, five catches for 30 yards and continued his streak of never scoring an offensive touchdown in a road game.

It was McCaffrey's fewest yards rushing since 2014 at California when he had 19 yards on three carries.

Stanford's only TD came late in the third quarter on a 19-yard pass from Ryan Burns to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

Burns was 15 of 22 for 151 yards, but Washington controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides. Stanford quarterbacks were sacked eight times, six in the first half. Stanford had allowed only four total sacks in the first three games combined.

Stanford was playing short-handed without starting cornerbacks Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder, starting wide receiver Francis Owusu and starting fullback Daniel Marx. Starting right tackle Casey Tucker limped off with an apparent leg injury late in the fourth quarter.

Takeaways
Stanford: The Cardinal were unexpectedly sloppy. Stanford committed 11 penalties after entering the week as the least penalized team in the Pac-12. There were communication issues in part due to the roaring Washington crowd, but also a lack of sharpness not normally seen from David Shaw's team.

Washington: The defense was up to the task of keeping McCaffrey under control and forcing Burns to beat them through the air. McCaffrey had 34 yards on 10 carries in the first half and forced the Cardinal into numerous long third-down situations. That allowed Washington to bring extra pass rushers to get to Burns.

Up Next
Stanford: The Cardinal head home after two straight weeks on the road to host Washington State.

Washington: The Huskies travel to Oregon looking to snap a 12-game losing streak to the Ducks.

Best of MLB: Darvish stars as Rangers beat Rays 3-1 and clinch home field

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Best of MLB: Darvish stars as Rangers beat Rays 3-1 and clinch home field

ARLINGLTON, Texas -- Yu Darvish looked playoff-ready with a season-high 12 strikeouts in six innings as the Texas Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 on Friday night and clinched home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

The Rangers can be tied by only the Cleveland Indians and they own the tie-breaker by winning the teams' season series. The AL owns home-field advantage in the World Series thanks to its win in the All-Star Game.

Darvish (7-5) allowed one run, three hits and one walk. His 28th career game of double-digit strikeouts is the second-most in a pitcher's first 100 major league starts, topped only by Dwight Gooden (31). Darvish will likely start Game 2 of the Division Series following Cole Hamels.

Shin-Soo Choo returned to Texas' lineup after missing 39 games with a fractured left forearm. Choo pulled a single to right in his first plate appearance since Aug. 15 and went 1 for 4.

Matt Andriese (8-8) gave up three runs and seven hits, including solo home runs to Carlos Beltran and Rougned Odor (see full story). 

Cabrera hits 2 HRs, Tigers move up in playoff race, beat Braves
ATLANTA -- Miguel Cabrera hit two home runs, Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton also connected and the Detroit Tigers moved up in the playoff race, beating the Atlanta Braves 6-2 Friday night.

The Tigers won their third straight and pulled within a half-game of Toronto for the second AL wild-card spot. The Blue Jays lost at Boston 5-3.

The regular season is scheduled to end Sunday, but the Tigers might need to play beyond that. They were rained out against Cleveland this week and would have to make up that game if it impacts their playoff chances.

Daniel Norris (4-2) gave up one run, five hits, two walks and struck out eight in 6 2/3 innings.

The Braves, playing their final series at Turner Field before moving north to the suburbs next year, had won 10 of 11. Matt Wisler (7-13) was chased in the fifth when James McCann's RBI single made it 5-0 (see full story).

Trumbo hits 47th, Schoop 5 RBIs as Orioles top Yankees 8-1
NEW YORK -- Mark Trumbo hit his major league-leading 47th home run, Jonathan Schoop and Adam Jones also went deep in a six-run fifth inning and the Baltimore Orioles beat the New York Yankees 8-1 in steady rain Friday night to maintain their AL wild-card lead.

Baltimore began the night tied with Toronto for the AL's two wild cards at 87-72, with Detroit 1 1/2 games back and Seattle trailing the Tigers by a half-game.

Trumbo and Jones homered off Michael Pineda (6-12), who started with 3 2/3 hitless innings and suddenly became ineffective.

Schoop tied his career high with five RBIs, hitting a go-ahead, two-run double in the fourth and adding a three-run homer in the fifth against James Pazos -- Baltimore's big league-high 250th home run this season.

Yovani Gallardo (6-8) won for just the second time in nine starts since Aug. 5, allowing two hits, three walks and Mark Teixeira's sacrifice fly in six innings (see full story). 

Ortiz delivers another HR, Red Sox beat Blue Jays 5-3
BOSTON -- Opening his final weekend with yet another game-winning homer, David Ortiz lined a two-run shot into the right-field stands to break a seventh-inning tie and help the Boston Red Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 on Friday night.

The AL East champion Red Sox snapped a three-game losing streak and stayed one game ahead of Cleveland in the race for home-field advantage for the playoffs.

The Blue Jays fell one game behind Baltimore in the wild-card race and are now within range of Detroit and Seattle in the fight for the AL's final postseason berth (see full story).